Alright everyone, here's your fair warning: It's soap box time. I tend to steer clear of controversial topics because I'm an avoider of conflict by nature, but I can't stop thinking about this. I'm pretty new to this discussion, so forgive me my ignorance. I am mostly writing this because it helps me process my own thoughts, and I really think this is important enough to share with you guys (and it will be documented for the future me as well).
On to topic: The food industry.
Most of my information comes from either the documentary Food Inc. (which is on instant watch on Netflix) or the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. There is so much outrageously wrong with the food industry, that I don't know where to begin. Poor treatment of animals and farmers, unsustainable farming methods, genetically engineered plants and animals, the amount of fuel used to ship food half way around the world, the lack of cleanliness of products, and lack of regulation by government agencies...the list goes on, and it's not pretty. I think I'll just highlight some of the more shocking things that I have learned in the past month, and if you're interested, you can read more for yourself.
1) A very small number of corporations control a very large amount of the food we eat. In the 70s, the top 5 beef packers controlled about 25% of the market. Today, the top 4 control more than 80%. We have virtually eliminated the small farm. So, the problems that I'm about to talk about are true for almost all the food we're eating- not just what's found at fast food restaurants. We're buying it at the grocery store, too.
2) The treatment of animals is atrocious. We have such a strange relationship with meat. We want it boneless, in a form that in no way resembles the animal from which it came. I am so guilty of this. I want a boneless, skinless chicken breast, and I'd prefer not to touch it before it's cooked. The problem is, cows are being packed into what the industry calls CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) where they can hardly move, they are up to their knees in their own manure, and they're being fed corn. (I'll get to this part shortly.) Then we ground them up and have literally thousands of cows in one hamburger. Nevermind the fact that it totally strips them of their cow-hood. Even if you d0n't see the cow as anything except a precursor to a hamburger, you have to be worried about the health issue. With that much manure caked onto their hides and the speedy process with which they are slaughtered, it's impossible not to get some into the meat. Read: e coli outbreaks. So what's our cure for this? We have another factory "sanitizing" meat bits with ammonia, labeling it "meat filler" and it's landing in 80 percent of fast food "beef." Grossed out yet?
Chickens have no better lives. They are owned by the corporations from the minute they hatch. They are sorted on huge conveyor belts and put into a chicken house with no windows. They never see sunlight. Additionally, they have been genetically altered so that we can have a full grown chicken in half the time it takes to grow a natural chicken. And which part is the dinner-time favorite? You guessed it, the breast. So we grow chickens with bigger breasts- so big in fact, that the chickens bones do not have time to catch up with it's fast growth, and they cannot even hold themselves up to walk. So they can't move, they sit in their own feces, they never see sunlight. When I went to the grocery store this week, I was going to buy a whole chicken. When I was looking for the right size for my recipe, I noticed they were all exactly the same size: 5.9 pounds. Every single one. That's not a chicken anymore. It's a human alteration of a chicken.
3) The treatment of farmers and workers is dismal. Farmers who partner with these big corporations get trapped in a cycle of debt that they can't escape from. They end up obligated to continue working for these huge corporations just to keep a minimal amount of money in their own bank accounts. Additionally, the huge factories that process the vegetables or meat actually send buses across the border to Mexico to collect illegal immigrants to work for them. They'll work for them for 10-12 years and then the factories will turn them into authorities a few at a time, so as not to disrupt their production. It's dispicable.
4) Corn. Oh my. You probably know that you are hard-pressed to find a grocery store item that doesn't contain high fructose corn syrup (or some other corn product). Seriously, go take a look in your pantry. I'll wait. These mega-corporations are producing mostly corn. The corn is going into everything we eat....even the food our animals eat. Cows, chickens, even fish are now eating corn. Cows do not eat corn, they eat grass! We feed them corn because it's cheap and it makes them fat fast. If it's making the cows fat fast...hmmm, wonder what it's doing to us? If the cow is not able eat healthy food (grass), I don't think their meat is going to be as healthy for us as it could be. Also, corn is subsidized by the government, so we are able to sell it for less than cost of production. That's putting a lot of farmers in other countries out of buisness (which is why those immigrants I talked about earlier are having to look for work elsewhere.)
5) Genetic modification. Short version (because this rant is getting long): we are changing food to make it more convenient, and so we can ship it all the way across the world. In return, we are getting less healthful, less tasty food. But it looks pretty. So that's nice.
Check out this quote from Kingsolver's book. "U.S. farmers now produce 3,900 calories per U.S. citizen, per day. That is twice what we need, and 700 calories a day more than they grew in 1980."
This one keeps me up at night: "In fact, all the world's farms currently produce enough food to make every person on the globe fat. Even though 800 million people are chronically under-fed..., it's because they lack money and opportunity, not bcause food is unavailable in their countries. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that current food production can sustain world food needs even for the 8 billion people who are projected to inhabit the planet in 2030."
Ok, so now what? I would be loath to present all these problems without some sort of solution. It sounds so hopeless, but there are things we can do. I'm beginning the process, but I have so far to go.
1) Buy organic foods, foods without anibiotics, and free-range meat. If possible, buy things that were grown/raised close to where you live. (I didn't even get into oil usage!) Admittedly, they are not cheap, but by buying only the cheapest products we are paying another kind of price. "The multiple maladies caused by bad eating are taking a dire toll on our health- most tragically for our kids, who are predicted to be this country's first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents."
2) Grow a garden! Every little bit helps, and you know exactly where those veggies came from.
3) Support legislation that encourages proper labeling of food products, and helps local vegetable (not just corn) farmers.
4) Cook at home.
5) Buy fruits and veggies that are in season, so they don't have to be shipped around the world to land on your dinner plate.
I'm tryng to practice what I preach. It's a slow process. It's a difficult thing, to change a life-time's worth of eating habits. I hope you'll hold me accountable, though.